Google kills hope for Android security with 3LM retreat

Consumerization means an end to personal/work division -- but not when it comes to Android, apparently

Want to know the full extent of Google's fixation on consumer usage of Android? Not only is it blind to the increasing use of consumer technologies, even when driven by businesses, it's also killed the group that could have given Android a consistent security architecture similar to what Apple put in iOS two years ago. In other words, Google has consciously assured that Android as a platform won't fit easily into business and dual personal/business use -- that is, the world of consumerization.

It's mind-boggling.

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What exactly has Google done? It's disbanded 3LM (for "three laws of mobility," patterned after sci-fi author Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics), the company it acquired as part of its Motorola Mobility purchase last year. 3LM had a mobile management API and platform for Android that provided similar functionality to the mobile management APIs that Apple introduced in iOS 4 in summer 2010 -- the APIs that transformed the iPhone from a consumer-ony device into what is now the most-purchased business smartphone.

Motorola Mobility bought 3LM, founded by ex-Googler Tom Moss, in February 2011; when Google announced its plans to buy Motorola Mobility in August 2011, many people hoped Google would adopt the 3LM management stack into the core Android OS, providing a consistent management API for all Android devices.

The lack of consistent management APIs across Android devices is one reason few enterprises buy Android smartphones or let employees use them beyond perhaps email access. Samsung had developed its own management APIs for many of its Android devices, and Motorola had implemented the 3LM APIs in its Android smartphones. Google also implemented some of Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies in Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" in spring 2011. (Apple's iOS also supports a fuller set of EAS policies in addition to its own larger set of management APIs.)

But even a year ago, it became apparent that Google wouldn't adopt the 3LM APIs into the common Android platform. Moss told me last fall that it would be an optional component for Android device makers to license and would work only with mobile device management (MDM) suites that licensed it as well. I criticized that approach, as did the various mobile analysts with whom I discuss mobile security. But we all hoped that Google would come to its senses and do for Android what Apple did for iOS: Remove the unnecessary barrier to corporate use.

A few weeks ago, I heard from one well-connected MDM vendor that 3LM was essentially disbanded. I asked around and heard the same from other trusted people in the industry. Chris Hazelton, a mobile analyst at the 451 Group research firm, picked up similar comments. Google, Motorola Mobility, and 3LM's (former) PR firm have all ignored my requests for comment, so I can't say 100 percent that 3LM is gone, but I'm confident that's the case. After all, Moss and Mike Chen, 3LM's first engineering hire, decamped from Google a few weeks back, landing at VC firm Accel Partners as strategic technology advisers.

Hazelton also noted that the Motorola Mobility executives such as Christy Wyatt who were passionate about 3LM have all left the company as it fell into a stasis during the nine-month ordeal of getting regulatory approval for Google's purchase by the U.S., E.U., and Chinese antitrust authorities. Even after the three agencies signed off on the acquisition (the U.S. and E.U. did so in February 2012, China in May 2012), Motorola Mobility has remained in limbo, with barely a mention by Google executives in the multiple Google-branded product rollouts this summer and fall, and just a few minor smartphone upgrades shipping this year.

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